PAHO/WHO, health ministry to start work on alcohol control policy
In the coming days, the Pan American Health Organisation and World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO), with input from the Public Health Ministry and stakeholders, will begin developing a policy for the prevention and control of use of alcohol in Guyana.
The project, which will be spearheaded by consultant Dr. Norman Giesbrecht, who has a record of conducting research focused on alcohol policy development, will culminate in February, 2019, with the submission of the final policy document.
The policy’s Terms of Reference (ToRs) state that in the quest to accelerate the implementation of the global agenda for alcohol prevention and control in Guyana, the Ministry requested support for the development of a policy that is aligned with the Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol 2016 and the WHO “Best Buys” for alcohol prevention and control.
“Even though prevention of alcohol and substance use and related disorders are included in the agenda of the National Health Strategy for Guyana 2013-2020 (Health Vision 2020) and the Mental Health Action Plan 2015-2020, the country is still lagging with regard to the implementation of the WHO “Best Buys” (costeffective interventions) to prevent and control alcohol use and abuse, especially among youth and indigenous populations in the country,” the ToRs, which were seen by the Sunday Stabroek state.
The Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol, according to the WHO website, focuses on ten key areas of policy options and interventions at the national level and four priority areas for global action.
The ten areas for national action are: leadership, awareness and commitment; health services’ response; community action; drunk-driving policies and countermeasures; availability of alcohol; marketing of alcoholic beverages; pricing policies; reducing the negative consequences of drinking and alcohol intoxication; reducing the public health impact of illicit alcohol and informally produced alcohol; and monitoring and surveillance.
The four priority areas for global action are: public health advocacy and partnership; technical support and capacity building; production and dissemination of knowledge; and resource mobilization.
The “Best Buys” document, which lists harmful alcohol use as a risk factor/disease, proposes that there be tax increases, restricted access to retailed alcohol and bans on alcohol advertising. This document focuses on “Reducing the Economic Impact of Non-Communicable Diseases in Low and Middle-Income Countries.”
It is expected that Dr. Giesbrecht will submit a draft report sometime between January 28 and February 1, 2019 and submit the final report sometime during the period February 18-22, 2019.
Based on Dr. Giesbrecht’s schedule, work will begin on October 22. During the first week, attention will be paid to the development and submission of a draft outline for the possible structure and content of the policy document.
According to his CV (which spans 55 pages), Dr. Giesbrecht is currently the Emeritus Scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and has several publications related to alcohol. He wrote the national alcohol strategy for Canada.
He is also the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Public Health Association’s Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Sector.
Months after taking office, President David Granger had registered his concern about excessive drinking and associated deaths, particularly on the roadways.
Alcohol is also said to be a major contributing factor in the large number of suicides and sexual assaults which have been occurring in Baramita, in Region One, over the years.
President Granger had described alcohol as “one of two evils” that the country has to contain and assured that, over time, measures would be put in place to deal with it.
Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, last year had also registered his concern and expressed his willingness to work along with the ministers of Social Cohesion, Public Health and Education to assist in bringing the alcohol abuse situation in the country under control. “It is a disease in this country,” he had stressed, before also noting that enforcement of existing regulations to curb excessive drinking is needed.
Meanwhile, Dr. William Adu-Krow, PAHO’s country Director, during a recent interview, acknowledged that alcohol consumption in Guyana is a problem.
Quoting statistics, he told Sunday Stabroek that worldwide, consumption is about 6.2 litres per person compared with 9.4 litres in the Caribbean alone. He did not have figures for Guyana. These figures, which were recorded in 2010, pertain to pure alcohol and focuses on persons aged 15 years or older.
The ToRs for the upcoming consultancy state that a quarter of this consumption (24.8%) was unrecorded; that is, a quarter of the alcohol consumed was either homemade or illegally produced or sold outside normal government controls.
Of the total recorded alcohol consumed worldwide, it states that 50.1% was consumed in the form of spirits.
They add that in all WHO regions, females are more often lifetime abstainers than males. In 2012, about 3.3 million deaths, or 5.9% of all global deaths, were attributable to alcohol consumption, they said further, before noting that there are significant sex differences in the proportion of global deaths attributable to alcohol. For example, in 2012, 7.6% of deaths among males and 4.0% of deaths among females were attributable to alcohol.
Dr. Adu-Krow highlighted the fact that alcohol is a contributing factor in homicides, suicides and road accidents.
Noting that in Guyana it is spirits which account for about 77% of the alcohol consumed, he added that beer accounts for almost 23% and wine for under 1%. “That means that the persons who actually deal with alcohol, they deal with the rum…the very, very strong alcohol,” he pointed out.
He also noted the dire effects that excessive alcohol consumption has on the family, including school-aged children, the community, the workplace, health and the country’s health care system.
According to the country rep, there has always been varying opinions on what constitutes irresponsible drinking. He said that the general view is that consuming more than four drinks amounts to irresponsible drinking. The limit, he said, is four drinks per occasion for women or five for men.
Alcohol is one of the focal points for
Dr. Norman Giesbrecht